Deanna Marie Nevel, 31, 235 Trolley St., Winburne, pleaded guilty to criminal conspiracy/murder in the first degree and criminal conspiracy/arson. She was sentenced to eight to 20 years in state prison. She was fined $2 plus costs and must pay restitution of more than $4,400.
The charges stem from an incident Nov. 3, 2010 when a mobile home in Decatur Township was destroyed by fire. The home was occupied at the time by three people, including Nevel’s ex-husband.
Prior to sentencing in addressing the court, one victim stated that the night of the fire, she didn’t know Nevel was watching from nearby, and she resented that “my day of death would come at her hand.” She explained she has experienced hardships since that time and hoped that Nevel would get the “punishment she deserves.” Another victim asked if she cared at all about her and added “I hate what you have done.”
Nevel addressed the court, and at the urging of Judge Paul E. Cherry, she turned to apologize to her family and the victims. Cherry said that Nevel was “old enough to know better” and noted that God was looking out for the victims that day or they could have been killed.
According to the affidavit, one victim told police he was asleep when the cat started to paw at him and he smelled smoke. He woke everyone and they were able to escape through a rear door. They were only outside for a few minutes when the windows in the area where the fire started, broke out. An officer who was examining the area could smell a petroleum product, which was possibly gasoline.
Nevel’s juvenile daughter told police that her father had filed for custody of her and a sibling. While traveling with her mother, she learned there was a custody hearing Nov. 10, 2010. Her mother commented that he wouldn’t get the kids and threatened to burn down his home. It was a week later that the mobile home in Decatur Township caught fire. The girl said her sister told her about the fire and stated that she thought their mother had burned the home.
After the fire when the daughter was in a car with Nevel, Nevel stated that she wished her ex-husband and his mother had died in the fire so she would not have to “deal with this.”
When her ex-husband was interviewed by police, he stated that he saw Nevel drive by his home on the day of the fire. The day after the fire, he saw her drive by again. He explained he had partial custody of the children and was working on repairing his father’s place for them. He verified there was a custody hearing scheduled just a few days after the fire.
Police also investigated a second fire at the two-story home in Boggs Township that Nevel’s ex-husband was repairing. This fire also had suspicious origins. Officers became aware of this fire after speaking with Hilmer Harris.
Nevel’s co-defendant, Harris, 21, 102 Loch Lomond Rd., Philipsburg, an inmate of the jail, is charged with three counts of criminal attempt/murder in the first degree, six counts of criminal conspiracy/murder in the first degree, three counts of criminal attempt/criminal homicide, six counts of criminal conspiracy/criminal homicide, four counts of arson, two counts of criminal conspiracy/arson and three counts of recklessly endangering another person. He remains in the jail in lieu of $1 million bail.
In May of 2011, police interviewed Nevel about the fires. She claimed Walter Vega and Harris discussed burning the place down but this was often done out of her presence. When she received the court papers with the date for the custody hearing, Harris became mad and started to talk to Vega, who then planned the fire, according to Nevel. After purchasing gas, they went to a Laundromat in Chester Hill, where Harris and Vega exited the car. They were gone about 10 minutes before they ran back. When he re-entered the car, Vega said he started the fire by pouring gas on a white towel and putting it over the top of the gas tank in the front of the trailer.
The group then traveled to West Decatur where they stopped at a church to drop Vega and Harris off again. They had the gas can with them. She told police she drove around until they text-messaged her to pick them up. She stated they set the basement of her father-in-law’s house on fire. They knew that if they burned down this house Nevel’s ex-husband would not have a place to live with the children. As they drove back, they saw the trailer on fire.
The officer conducting the interview asked Nevel if she was aware there were three people in the trailer and she said yes. When asked if she tried calling the occupants of the home or 911 about the fire, she said no because there was a protection from abuse order prohibiting her to have contact with her ex-husband. She also stated that Harris and Vega had been talking about setting the trailer on fire for weeks.